Hola amigos and happy Cinco de Mayo! You may have never questioned why we celebrate May 5 here in the United States. Because, really, who would question a day that gives you an excuse to chow down on Mexican food and chug margaritas? Since it’s Throwback Thursday and Cinco de Mayo, you know we have to look back and see what we’re actually celebrating. So, grab a burrito and a cerveza, and see what the true meaning behind May 5 is.
Many people who don’t live in Mexico incorrectly think that Cinco de Mayo is the country’s Independence Day, but that event is actually celebrated on Sept. 16. If someone wants to start the trend of making that day popular in the US, too, go for it! Mexico was actually independent for more than 50 years before what May 5 honors happened.
So, what does this date recognize, then? May 5 remembers the Mexican army’s victory over the French army which happened during the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The Battle of Puebla was a part of the Franco-Mexican war, which lasted for six years, from 1861-1867. Cinco de Mayo is actually not that big of a deal in Mexico, but celebrations break out across the country in the US, particularly amongst Mexican-American citizens.
Let’s learn a little more about the battle that inspired an entire holiday. In 1861, Mexico was ruled by President Benito Juarez. Juarez inherited the country when it was in a dire financial situation. He couldn’t pay debts owed to European countries and they soon came knocking on Mexico’s door. Britain and Spain were able to work out deals with Juarez, but France did not relent.
France took control of a territory in Mexico and sent troops to Veracruz in 1861, forcing the Mexican government to retreat. Not giving up, Juarez rounded up 2,000 men who genuinely wanted to fight for their country, and sent them to Puebla de Los Angeles, where the French army was headed. Even though the Mexicans were inadequately armed and outnumbered, they fought the French army from sun up to sun down. The French eventually retreated after losing almost 500 soldiers. Meanwhile, the Mexican army had lost only 100 soldiers.
In the big picture of the Franco-Mexican war, the Battle of Puebla was not that big of a victory. However, it provided for a great boost in support for both the Mexican government and the movement as a whole. The war ended in 1867 thanks to more Mexican military and pressure from the United States, who urged France to withdraw.
The ways in which Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States and Mexico differs greatly. Most Mexicans see May 5 as just any other day. It’s not a national holiday and public places remain open. The day gets the most attention in Puebla, where the battle actually occurred. There, military parades, battle recreations and other events take place.
You all probably know the typical ways in which we celebrate this date in the United States. The most organized and ornate events happen in areas where there are large populations of Mexican-Americans, such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. We have Chicano activists to thank for bringing attention to this holiday in the United States. Back in the 1960s, they wanted to recognize the group of mostly indigenous Mexicans who were victorious in Puebla, a group they themselves could relate to.